US Government Took Lavabit Source Code

[ ZDNet ] Zack Whittaker:

When asked, a spokesperson for the Justice Dept. acknowledged that the department has demanded source code and private encryption keys before. In a recent filing against Apple, the government cited a 2013 case where it won a court order demanding that Lavabit, an encrypted email provider said to have been used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, must turn over its source code and private keys. The Justice Dept. used that same filing to imply it would, in a similar effort, demand Apple’s source code and private keys in its ongoing case in an effort to compel the company’s help by unlocking an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter.

Unfortunately a legal precedent seems to be already present, for law enforcement authorities to take Apple’s iOS source code.

Without Restraint, Without Nobility

Theodore Gray:

If they can ask Apple to disable the password protections on an iPhone, they can ask Apple to turn on the microphone or the camera. On any iPhone, anywhere, in any home in this country. And you would never know.

Some years ago one could have argued that there would be restraint in the use of such powers. But no one can seriously make that case anymore. We all know they would do that sort of thing if they could, because we’ve all read of too many cases where they have.

Once the tool exists, it will be abused. I really wish I could say otherwise. I wish I lived in a country where law enforcement acted with the square-jawed nobility of a comic book FBI agent. I used to think I did live in such a country, but in recent years I have been forced to realize that I don’t. I think that, in your heart, you know it too.

And if you happen to like the party in power today, just remember, every tool you give them is inherited by the next guy.

If the FBI wins, nowhere in the world would a company that provides products and services and uses encryption to safeguard customer information be safe to operate without severe business-debilitating interference from law enforcement authorities. Why would it be debilitating to business? Who would trust weakened products and services that allows law enforcement authorities access to your data, at will?

Apple Encryption Engineers Might Resist

[ The New York Times ] John Markoff, Katie Benner, and Brian X. Chen:

Apple employees are already discussing what they will do if ordered to help law enforcement authorities. Some say they may balk at the work, while others may even quit their high-paying jobs rather than undermine the security of the software they have already created, according to more than a half-dozen current and former Apple employees.

Among those interviewed were Apple engineers who are involved in the development of mobile products and security, as well as former security engineers and executives.

Ordered to help. That sounds almost nice. But what really might happen is Apple employees will be forced, by law, to sabotage their own creation. I understand if Apple employees developed a malicious virus. I understand if Apple employees created a destructive worm. But it’s none of that.

Apple employees created a mobile operating system that secures your private information by encrypting it with your passcode or fingerprint. This is what the FBI, the DoJ, and other law enforcement authorities will force Apple employees to sabotage, if they win their legal battle against Apple.

And if the FBI et al. wins, every company that provides secure products and services will be on the hook: law enforcement authorities — in the U.S. as well as in other countries — will demand and get a weakened version to access data deemed necessary for an investigation.

The AI Revolution

[ Medium ] Scott Santens:

Amelia is just one AI out there currently being beta-tested in companies right now. Created by IPsoft over the past 16 years, she’s learned how to perform the work of call center employees. She can learn in seconds what takes us months, and she can do it in 20 languages. Because she’s able to learn, she’s able to do more over time. In one company putting her through the paces, she successfully handled one of every ten calls in the first week, and by the end of the second month, she could resolve six of ten calls. Because of this, it’s been estimated that she can put 250 million people out of a job, worldwide.

Give Amelia several months or several years and she would be able to resolve a million out of a million calls. I thought jobs like customer service would be difficult to replace with computers. The human element, is lacking, isn’t it? Maybe not. A lot of companies have outsourced customer service to countries like India and customer service representatives are trained with a script. If that script doesn’t solve a problem, the call is then elevated to a supervisor who is off-script and who can make decisions. Amelia can probably replace the first line of customer service representatives, and Amelia will be significantly better than what we experience today. If Amelia can’t solve a problem a human supervisor can be called in to help, but Amelia will learn from human supervisor interactions and eventually put them out of their jobs too. I guess I thought wrong: AI will soon replace lots of jobs, even jobs like customer service.

Do you remember the movie Her? Now that I think of it, the premise of the movie is wrong. Theo ghost writes letters. That’s his job. But why would a company hire people like Theo when they can use Samantha, the AI? Samantha could read through every love letter humans have ever written and learn how to write a love letter precision tuned to the ‘writer’ and the receiver of that letter. And Samantha would do it better than Theo.

Microsoft Doesn’t Need Your Permission to Upgrade to Windows 10

[ Reddit ] If Windows gets away with installing a recent update it will automatically start the process of upgrading to Windows 10. Most of us running Windows 7 leave security updates to automatic, so that means Microsoft will download the entire Windows 10 installer — about 3GB in size — for you whether you like it or not.

Microsoft changed the Windows 10 installer download from optional to recommended in Windows Update. Optional updates are not automatically installed, but recommended updates are. Sneaky bastards. Once the update is installed Windows 10 will begin the install process.

I do not want Windows 10. Not because I don’t like Windows 10, but because Windows 7 is working just fine. Upgrading an operating system, especially Windows, can be wrought with all kinds of trouble. Drivers might not work. Old programs might not work the way they did on a previous Windows version. You’ll be spending hours upon hours hunting down drivers, if they exist at all for Windows 10. Then you need to unlearn and relearn how to do things in the new operating system. That impacts productivity for quite some time. All I want is an operating system that works, and Windows 7 works for me, so I don’t want Windows 10. But Microsoft doesn’t give a rip about what I want.

About a week ago, I got tired of Microsoft constantly nagging me to upgrade to Windows 10. Have you noticed the “Get Windows 10” icon? Want to know how to get rid of it? How-To Geek suggests a small freeware app called GWX Control Panel. What a relief not to be incessantly nagged by Microsoft to get something I don’t want. Good riddance!

Daylight Saving Time Kills

Right next to me stands a refilled venti cup of dark roast coffee from Starbucks. I’ve been drinking it since 8:30 this morning, but instead of feeling energized which is what normally happens, I’m tired. When I close my eyes, I want to keep them closed. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, so I’m tired, and when I’m tired I’m not as productive. Thanks to a really stupid idea that’s gone on for too long — daylight saving time — 300 million others in the United States are going through a similar experience, except for the smart governors and their residents in Hawaii and Arizona.

In 1966 Congress passed the Uniform Time Act — a comedian must have named this act! — mandating official dates when daylight saving time starts and ends. Thankfully they weren’t draconian and allowed states to opt out. The reason for the Uniform Time Act was to save energy: you’re up one hour less each night so you’re spending less electricity on lighting, etc. That’s the theory anyway. In real life, the opposite was true in Indiana according to Scientific American: residential electricity use actually increased one percent. The reason? Extra cooling during the summer evenings, and extra heating during the mornings of early spring and late fall. Warm states experience a similar increase. There are other studies with mixed results, but one thing is clear: messing with our clocks is not the most efficient way to save electricity, assuming it does save electricity, which I doubt. But daylight saving time actually has some big negatives.

According to WebMD heart attacks rose five percent during the first week of daylight saving time in Sweden. Cause? Sleep patterns and biological rhythms were disrupted. It’s not just in Sweden. Cardiology fellow at the University of Colorado in Denver Dr. Amneet Sandhu led a study that found daylight saving time raised the risk of having a heart attack the following Monday by 25 percent (Source: Reuters). Here’s another one: University of Michigan Health System interventional cardiologist and associate professor of internal medicine Dr. Hitinder Gurm conducted a study and found there was an increase in heart attacks after people lost an hour of sleep, but also after gaining it back heart attack numbers fell by 21 percent (Source: LiveScience).

An idea that was born from wanting to save electricity is killing people. Google “daylight saving time car accidents” or “daylight saving time productivity” and you’ll find many articles pointing to how daylight saving time does little to save anything. It’s time to save ourselves and kill daylight saving time.

Obama on FBI v. Apple


Before smartphones were invented… if there is probable cause to think you abducted a child or are engaging in a terrorist plot, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep [use a] warrant to search your home and rifle through your underwear to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing. And we agreed on that because just like all of our other rights, there are going to be some constraints that we impose to ensure that we are safe, secure and living in a civilized society.

I believe this is still possible, post smartphones.

“If it was technologically possible to make an impenetrable device where there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement?” he posed. “If government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. There has to be some concession to get into that information somewhere.”

Is it technically possible to make an impenetrable device? I think Apple will prove it is, and very soon. How do we apprehend bad people? Law enforcement can appear at the person’s doorstep with a search warrant and thoroughly search for evidence of wrongdoing. Even the smartest bad people are not perfect; they leave non-digital crumbs — evidence of wrongdoing — here and there.

This fixation on a smartphone — specifically an iPhone — by POTUS and the Department of Justice, which is part of the Executive Branch, is weird. It is as if all other methods of evidence gathering has been thrown out the window and the only thing that matters is what’s in the iPhone. I think it’s obvious what the DoJ is trying to do: set a legal precedent to force companies to aid investigations in any way the DoJ deems fit.

Google’s AlphaGo AI Beats Go Master Se-dol Lee a Third Time

[ Wired ] Cade Metz:

Google’s artificially intelligent Go-playing computer system has claimed victory in its historic match with Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol after winning a third straight game in this best-of-five series.

AlphaGo is a complex system that relies on neural networks. I admit I don’t know much about neural networks, but to me it doesn’t sound like a single computer but a legion of computers. For AlphaGo to show off its artificial intelligence a massive connection to the Internet is required. This distinction is important to me, because it means for AI to work it requires a massive amount of computing power and an active connection to the Internet. And that means AI requires significant financial resources for it to work, just at the software level. The last meter — as in the jump from software to reality — will require even more; think about what it would take to build a physical robot that can sit across Se-dol Lee and place Go stones on the board. And then think about it being untethered from a power source and untethered from the Internet.

“The last meter” is important because we live in a physical world. Yes, more and more of our analog world will be digitally connected, and eventually almost everything will be, but right now much of our world is analog. Want coffee? You’ll need to get beans from a tree (a tree that was planted, watered, taken care of for years), gather them up, take it to a roaster, roast them, take it to packager, package them, take it to a distributor, distribute them, take it to a store, put it up on shelves, then you the customer or someone who is buying it for you finds the packaged roasted coffee beans, put it in your cart, pay for it, bring it home, open it up, measure the beans, grind it, put it in a coffee making gizmo, boil water, pour it in the gizmo, wait until coffee is brewed, and pour it in a cup. Then you get to drink some coffee. Will AI-based robots take over this process? Not soon.

Back to Go, and AlphaGo. Artificial intelligence has hit an inflection point; in the minds of average folks AI has become a credible threat.

Just two years ago, most experts believed that another decade would pass before a machine could claim this prize. But then researchers at DeepMind—a London AI lab acquired by Google—changed the equation using two increasingly powerful forms of machine learning, technologies that allow machines to learn largely on their own. Lee Sedol is widely regarded as the best Go player of the past decade. But he was beaten by a machine that taught itself to play the ancient game.

Self-learning or reinforcement learning allows AI to learn at an unimaginably rapid pace. I can’t say exactly when, but very soon there will be no human being that will have even a small chance at beating AlphaGo. AlphaGo will probably end up playing 3D Go (a 19x19x19 cube) just for fun. Within the digital realm AI will rule and rule absolutely, precisely because AI can learn so quickly. Analog is next, but that will take some time. I think.

Google’s DeepMind Defeats Legendary Go Player Se-dol Lee in First of Five Games

[ The Verge ] From South Korea, Sam Byford:

Go is an ancient Chinese board game that has long been considered one of the great challenges faced by AI. While computer programs now best the world’s leading human players of games like checkers and chess, the high level of intuition and evaluation required by Go has made it tough for computers to crack. DeepMind’s AlphaGo program is the most advanced effort yet, using a complex system of deep neural networks and machine learning; it beat European champion Fan Hui last year, but Lee Se-dol is another proposition entirely.

“I don’t regret accepting this challenge,” said Lee. “I am in shock, I admit that, but what’s done is done. I enjoyed this game and look forward to the next. I think I failed on the opening layout so if I do a better job on the opening aspect I think I will be able to increase my probability of winning.” Lee was surprised both by how strong AlphaGo’s opening was, and by some unexpected moves.

Neural networked machine learning versus a human player. I not sure if that is a fair setup. What would be fair is AlphaGo versus Se-dol Lee and the top 100 Go players in the world, connected to one another, sharing what might be the best move and then having Se-dol Lee make the final decision. That would be fair. Another way would be for AlphaGo to not have an Internet connection.

Nonetheless it’s still impressive to watch a software algorithm beat a Go master, something that has never happened before 2015.

This Go tournament is best 3 out of 5: Alpha Go beat Se-dol Lee again in game 2. 2:0 AlphaGo. Commentary on the second game:

“Yesterday I was surprised but today it’s more than that — I am speechless,” said Lee in the post-game press conference. “I admit that it was a very clear loss on my part. From the very beginning of the game I did not feel like there was a point that I was leading.” DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis was “speechless” too. “I think it’s testament to Lee Se-dol’s incredible skills,” he said. “We’re very pleased that AlphaGo played some quite surprising and beautiful moves, according to the commentators, which was amazing to see.”

Apple’s Craig Federighi: Washington Post Op-Ed About iPhone Security

[ The Washington Post ] Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple Craig Federighi:

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. They have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013. But the security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers. What’s worse, some of their methods have been productized and are now available for sale to attackers who are less skilled but often more malicious.

The FBI, the Department of Justice, and other law enforcement organizations think it’s okay for iPhone users to have security that can be easily hacked. That’s messed up.